Why I only read books by Black authors in 2018
I have had a love affair with books since I was a young girl. Some of my strongest memories involve me sneaking into my grandparents’ bedroom to pull books from their bookshelves. Sitting cross-legged on their floor, I read the words “revolution” and “guerrilla warfare” as I flipped through the biographies of Malcolm X and Che Guevara. I sometimes relaxed on their bed and wandered recklessly through Greek mythology, following Zeus’s erotic tales across the yellowed pages.
It was difficult to part with my books. Volumes from the Reader’s Digest Best Loved Books for Young Readers sat atop my nightstands, waiting for me to resume reading them when I awakened. When my parents drove at night, I pressed myself against the car door, straining against the dim light to finish a book before we reached our destination.
My passion for reading hasn’t wavered in adulthood. I still stay up into the early morning to finish a bestseller, or I sit in one place all day reading while my children have the run of the house.
So during this year’s Black History Month, it was only natural for me to participate in #readingblackout to celebrate and recognize Black authors.
When February ended, I had not finished the book I chose to start the month, Roxane Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. I was still reading it in March when “describe yourself like a white male author” began trending on social media. Twitter user Gwen C. Katz highlighted a particular male author’s belief that he (and other male authors) could authentically write female characters. And thus, there wasn’t a need for diverse viewpoints to write diverse characters.
I am reading a thread of people complaining about #ownvoices and it is the cringiest thing. The term "SJW" appeared.
— Gwen C. Katz (@gwenckatz) March 30, 2018
A satellite conversation arose out of the Twitter discussion, where some white authors revealed that they did not read books by women or authors of color. Their arrogance aggravated me, but I was prompted to think about what I had been reading too. Reviewing my “read books” lists, I noticed that I had mostly read white male authors during the previous years. Amongst the library loans, classics, and recommendations from friends, very few books were by Black authors.
Even though #readingblackout had technically passed, I decided to continue it throughout the entirety of 2018.
I was hungry to see the complexities of myself fully represented in fiction and non-fiction literature. Solely reading Black authors was a more tangible way to learn about myself and to discover more contemporary Black writers.
I did not want to read 100 books or break personal reading records. I wanted to be intentional about the books I read in a way I had never been before. My #readingblackout for the year was an exploration in new topics and genres, while mining literature that could explain different facets of my identity. Here are some of the books I loved reading this year.
1. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
The memoir is an honest rendering of the ways in which Roxane Gay’s body—and all women’s bodies—has been shaped by trauma and language in a fatphobic, size-obsessed culture.
I feel like I need to ask who hasn’t read this book instead of who has, because it seems like everyone already has! I’m flying through it though, about 100 pages in two days, which is unheard of for me. So if you haven’t read it, are you planning on it? And if you have, what did you think? -Becca
2. The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane and Neil Martinez-Belkin
Gucci Mane does what so many of us wish we could do: Control the narrative of our own story, which is wildly difficult for a Black man in America.
@laflare1017 #Support Definitely a must read. #AutobiographyOfGucciMane
3. The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir by Jenifer Lewis
The Mother of Black Hollywood presents her flamboyant, no-holds-barred life in a way that is equal parts philosophical, poetic, and real.
Dec 10 #rumpumpumpum we're gonna have fun for my book! LIVE at the Bootleg Theater, D.J. "Shangela" Pierce interviews ME for @LiveTalksLA Tix at: https://t.co/34YO3YVxfV @LiveTalksLA @itsSHANGELA #TheMotherOfBlackHollywood #inthesestreets #bootleg
4. And Still I Rise: Black America Since MLK by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Kevin M. Burke
This in-depth presentation of Black American history since MLK’s assassination offers reflections on major historical events and accomplishments of Black artists, celebrities, and professionals that may have been swept up in the past decades’ significant cultural changes.
5. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
This collection of witty essays offers Samantha Irby’s takes on pop culture, romance, death, and everything in between, all while demonstrating how to unapologetically live the best and worst parts of our lives.
Fangirling like the book freaks we are because SAMANTHA IRBY () just walked in and signed her ridiculously awesome essay collection WE ARE NEVER MEETING IN REAL LIFE!!! —— #wearenevermeetinginreallife #butwetotallyjustmet #fangirls # #books!
6. Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson
Through personal and historical perspectives, this is an intricate examination of the Black lived experience and the entangling of power and privilege.
The one good thing about being on the road is I get to pick a book and #read front to back. Excited to read #Negroland by @jefferson.margo #blackgirlmagic
7. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
This contemporary fairytale is a disquieting critique of motherhood, identity, and race. It also illustrates the ripple effects of our decisions as parents.
I read this not too long ago and whew…….this was creepy, gorgeous and very very Snow White. This is a fairy tale of love and the twisted roads it can lead us down. #bookstagrammer #readersofinstagram #igreads #readersofinstagram #bookstagram #boysnowbird #helenoyeyemi #riotgrams #fairytale
8. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
Beauty’s impact on race and class are explored in the fictional world of Orléans, where we learn of its ugly, gray inhabitants and those who can literally afford to pay to have their features modified.
Finished off my Goodreads challenge reading The Belles- a book that blew my mind and reaffirmed a need to be more experimental with genres. #thebelles
9. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
The conclusion to The Broken Earth series ends with a unique take on mother-daughter relationships and acts of redemption.
And now it’s complete! Just got the signed limited edition of The Stone Sky. @subpress has done an amazing job adapting Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy. And Miranda Meeks again delivers some excellent dust jacket art. Such a great trilogy. Epic, imaginative and heart wrenching. Fans of “science-fantasy” and The Book of The New Sun should check it out.
10. The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
The trilogy is composed of three works (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of Gods) that delight in the frailties of humans and gods in a rich fantasy setting.
Have you finished all of the books in N.K. Jemisin's stunning, history-making, Hugo award winning, Broken Earth Trilogy? Need more of that undeniable, N.K. Jemisin goodness? You should pick up this collected volume of her Inheritance Trilogy. Three books, plus a novella set in the same world, for the price of 1 book. You can't lose. #hugowinner #brokenearth #inheritancetrilogy #fantasylit #sogood #mustread #changinghands
11. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This timely read on police brutality (now a movie as well) powerfully expresses the tension that exists for those navigating between two different communities, while also demonstrating the power of identity and responsibility.
A young lady came to my event tonight so I could sign her copy of #TheHateUGive. Her family lost everything in a fire, except for it – it was the only item to survive. But from what I can tell, she’s even stronger than this book . It was an honor to sign it.
12. Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile
This nonfiction story (now a TV show) demonstrates the importance of second chances as it follows a woman’s journey to manage her father’s dilapidated sugar cane farm and repair her relationship with her daughter.
This beautiful photo was taken by book lover @prose_and_palate who lives in South Louisiana just down the road from the fields I wrote about in the novel. Thanks for the post @prose_and_palate!
13. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
A brutal tale about the insidious way racism, incest, and rape destroy the world of a Black child who only wants to be loved.
The Bluest Eye||Toni Morrison|| • • This book is a haunting examination of many of the things that ail society, in the 1940s and today. We follow a young dark-skinned girl, Pecola Breedlove, and are confronted with racism, colorism, sexual assault, abuse, toxic masculinity, and so much more. • • This is Morrison’s first book, she wrote it at 39, and it is powerful and beautiful and painful, and full. You can sense that Morrison has more to give as a writer, which feels crazy, because this book is such a force. It was my first time reading Morrison and I can’t wait to dive deeper into her work. • • What I found especially unique is that we are asked to engage with so much trauma and while it is uncomfortable at times, Morrison’s gorgeous writing keeps us from looking away. Her words make us a captive audience. She melds the ugliness of behavior and hatred with the beauty of her poetic prose. • • There were parts of his book that I didn’t understand or that I missed. Morrison’s writing is rich and layered and complex, even while feeling simple and obvious, and sometimes I lost track of her and her thinking. Especially toward the end of the book. • • Did you read with us? Did you enjoy? We’ll be discussing this in our virtual book club tomorrow evening. Go to @Patreon (Patreon.com/thestacks) to join the fun. • • @book_girl_magic and I attempt to discuss the depth of The Bluest Eye on the most recent episode of The Stacks. You can listen to it and read my full review through the link in bio. #thestacksreview
14. Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama
Written before he became the 44th president of the United States, Obama reflects on his life in Chicago (pre-Harvard Law School) and his relationships with different family members. He gives special attention to his father’s impact on his life.
I haven’t gotten around to updating Instagram for a little while, so catching up! I read Obama’s memoir “Dreams from my Father” last month after I picked it up second hand in a charity shop for €1. Amazing bargain! @barackobama wrote it well before he had established himself in American national politics, or had ever ran for anything. That makes this memoir a little different from many books my politicians. It’s unlikely he wrote it to put forward a certain agenda or portray himself in a particular light. The book is fascinating, and a really enjoyable read. It’s about family, home and roots. It’s about his growing up in Hawaii, moving to Indonesia, coming back to the United States, working as an organiser in Chicago and visiting his heritage in Kenya. It’s about him, as a mixed race youth, finding his place in the world, and finding where he came from. He learns about his extended family, and he learns about his father, whom he only met once during a visit his father made to the US. The book is well written, and a highly enjoyable read. #read #reading #nonfiction #instabooks #bookstagram #booksofinstagram #booklover #bookish #bookgram #bibliophile #booklove #booknerd #bookaddict #booknerdigans #mustread #readersofinstagram #readmore #bookworm #reading #igreads #barackobama #obama #dreamsfrommyfather #politics #memoir #chicago #hawaii #kenya #indonesia #usa
15. I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux
A collection of bold essays that discuss Arceneaux’s experiences as a Black queer man, and the ways in which aspects of his identity conflict with each other.
Finally, I can say it: my first book, “I Can’t Date Jesus,” is now available wherever books are sold and in e-book/audiobook. Thank you for the support. .
16. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
It’s necessary to take your time as you read Gay’s rigorous examination of feminism’s complicated nature, which spans her own experiences alongside critiques of gender, sexuality, race, and pop culture.
On Wednesdays, We Read If you’re looking for a refreshingly candid perspective, this read is for you. Roxane Gay addresses all the complexities of the crossroads of modern feminism and the intersectionality of her own identities. Key Takeaways: “Just because you survive something does not mean you are strong” Here, Gay uses this quote to address the notion that we attach strength to the survival of sexual assault solely based on survival. Gay uses a lot of pop culture references to challenge how we think about identity and women’s politics ”I believe women not just in the United States but throughout the world deserve equality and freedom but know I am in no position to tell women of other cultures what that equality and freedom should look like”
17. Mixed: My Life in Black and White by Angela Nissel
Amongst the comedy and tragedy are real life lessons about identity, relationships, and the importance of cultural discussion in biracial families.
18. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
A story about a Black marriage interrupted by tragedy that is viscerally moving, forcing us to rethink how we love each other.
#Repost @regulargirlreads (@get_repost) ・・・ Pairs well with: a trip back home It made me: realize sometimes there is no right answer An American Marriage begins as a love story between Celestial and Roy, a newly married couple with a promising future ready to chase their dreams. Roy, a ladies man who successfully escaped his small town in Louisiana, and Celestial, a Georgia peach born and raised in Atlanta, experience an unexpected halt in their honeymoon phase when Roy is convicted of a crime he did not commit. With over a decade of sentencing, this couple must learn how to navigate a new kind of matrimony, but with barely a year under their belt do they have the foundation to support a relationship in the midst of injustice and turmoil? As this raw story unfolds, readers will be conflicted between character decisions and what is right vs wrong in a situation where no one can truly win. . . . #AnAmericanMarriage #bookstagram #igreads #books #book
19. The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel
This highly relatable memoir traces the author’s brokest moments throughout college, and her hilarious attempts to remedy her financial situation.
20. Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
A supernatural narrative underlies this heart-wrenching story about how parents’ failings affect their children.
FINALLY read Jesmyn Ward’s “Sing, Unburied, Sing” – apparently this is my summer of finally checking off last year’s biggest hits (I also just finished The Heart’s Invisible Furies, post to come). It took me a whiiiiiiiiile to get into the rhythm of this one. The switching narratives and the being thrown right into the magic realism aspect of it really threw me for a loop at the beginning, but by the end I liked it better for it. It can be disorienting to just be thrown into the world of the story, but I like a book that doesn’t baby the reader, that doesn’t feel like the reader needs every little thing explained to them upfront. I think that made the emotion in this story hit harder. I think you can tell how talented of a writer Jesmyn Ward is that even in a story where, looking back, not much happens in terms of plot, I found myself get so attached to the characters that I needed to keep reading just so see how they feel, and interact with the world and each other. At the beginning I kept saying to myself “I can’t believe THIS was Obama’s fave book last year ” but by the end I was captivated and sad to see it end. I’ve seen a lot of reviews that noted the ghosts as the thing that killed their enjoyment of the story, but I found the ghosts to be a totally unique vessel for articulating the emotions of the living characters – especially in a book that heavily relied on inner monologue. I found it a creative tool, and more interesting than if Ward had just had the character outright think it in a piece of inner monologue. I did find the magic realism aspects of the ending to be confusing, which is part of the reason why this book didn’t totally knock it out of the park for me, but overall I found it to be a /5. I’ve seen so many mixed reviews for this book, with many finding it to be overhyped. Let me know what you thought about it in the comments #getlitbookclub #jesmynward #singunburiedsing #fiction #magicrealism #nationalbookaward #book #bookish #booklover #bookrecommendation #bookworm #bookstagram #read #reading #igreads #cygbooks #belletristbabe
21. Nappily Ever After: A Novel by Trisha R. Thomas
The consequences of giving too much emotional currency to other people’s opinions are revealed through a woman’s journey to understand and love herself.
22. Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson
This hilarious essay collection is like reading your best friend’s critiques on pop culture, relationships, and other topics while often crushing hard on Bono from U2.
• For those not in the know, “free bleeding” is when a lady gets her period and abstains from using any sanitary products, instead saying to herself, “The world is my canvas and my vajeen is Jackson Pollock.” • ••• ••• ••• #everythingistrash #everythingistrashbutitsokay #airportreads #phoeberobinson #currentlyreading #essays #bookish #booksofinstagram #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #bookworm #airportbookstore #airportbooks #bookofessays #funnybook #funnybooks #humor #jacksonpollock
23. How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin
An extraordinary set of short fiction stories that span diverse universes in varying genres, while being at times gorgeous, compelling, and strange.
HOW LONG ‘TIL BLACK FUTURE MONTH? by N. K. Jemisin is on sale now! . Three-time Hugo Award winner N. K. Jemisin’s first collection of short fiction challenges and enchants with breathtaking stories of destruction, rebirth, and redemption. . . . Cover photo by @creativesoulphoto; cover design by @planetpinto . #orbitbooks #orbitbooksus #NKJemisin #howlongtilblackfuturemonth #fifthseason #thefifthseason #brokenearth #brokenearthtrilogy #thebrokenearthtrogy #hugoawardwinner #hugoawards #diversebooks #weneeddiversebooks #fantasybooks #bookstagram #instabooks #igreads
Honorable mention: We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union
I read this in January before I officially began participating in #readingblackout. Union portrays the awkwardness of adolescence, Black womanhood, and relationships with startling vulnerability.
Our December Guest Judge @gabunion is heroic, hilarious, and a great writer. Her debut memoir, WE’RE GOING TO NEED MORE WINE, is a wise and unfiltered collection of true-life tales about the mishaps and triumphs of a bright career. Add this extra to your next box for just $9.99. • • • #gabrielleunion #weregoingtoneedmorewine #bookstagram #bibliophile #wine
At the end of this year, I have laughed, cried, and yelled for myself across thousands of pages. Reading nothing but Black authors showed me all the ways I’ve missed seeing parts of my life so well described by others. It also revealed that there are people who acknowledge the different, complicated parts of the Black experience. And for that, I am grateful.
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